Radio Times - 15th-21st September 2007
Pages 18 & 19
She may be 62, but the pop idol is still a stunner.
Being a 60-something sex symbol isn't easy, but Deborah Harry is back for more...
Deborah Harry seems larger in real life. It's not her petite frame, which displays none of the excess weight that's plagued her in the past. It's her features - the "blob of a face" as she's referred to it. The eyes are large and deep set, the lashes long and dark, the cheekbones expansive and the lips curvaceous. It's the ideal face upon which to inscribe fantasies.
She's wearing what Americans call a "leeze-ure" suit, a comfortable grey cotton outfit not inappropriate on a 62-year-old chilling out in a five star London hotel. Her hair is a mixture of light tones - though not blonde - and is much shorter than those days when her face graced T-shirts and bedroom walls during the late 70s and early 80s.
She's released Necessary Evil (14 years after her last solo album) and is back touring with Blondie, the band that propelled her to success 30 years ago. This week, she guests on, among others, Steve Wright's Radio 2 show, GMTV, BBC News 24's HARDTalk... her diary always seems full. Why does she still do it? "I love it. It's what I do and I like getting paid." Does she need the revenue? "Er, I guess I do." She quickly changes her mind. "Not desperately. No."
The truth is that she's comfortably well off. She lives in New York and has no dependents apart from two dogs and a cat. Besides, what else could she do? I suggest more quality time with her dogs. "But how long is that going to last?" she asks, having missed the twinkle in my eye. "I like what I do, and I'm getting better at it. Why shouldn't I continue? Is there something wrong with that?"
My theory is that stardom has been gained at the expense of personal fulfilment. "You think that I don't have the ability to get a boyfriend?" she bristles. "I have a lot of friends and a lot of very nice intimate relationships, if that's what you're after." That wasn't my point. I don't doubt her ability to attract; I just wonder if there's been a trade-off. Few sex goddesses have had long-lasting satisfactory relationships back in the real world.
She's more receptive to discussing being a sex symbol. "It's very addictive. I'm wondering about that as I approach senility and old age. I think, 'Wow! I'm really hooked on all of this glamour cutie business. What's going to happen to me when I'm not so cutie any more? Am I going to be terribly depressed?'" Her provisional answer is that she won't panic. "I'm a survivor. I'll definitely be doing things. I hope to work on environmental issues, perhaps needy children. I hope to write for other people and do paintings. I'll just be focused outwards, which will be a nice relief."
Devising the sex-bomb image was fun, but maintaining it must be wearisome. She's admitted to plastic surgery ("You photograph better and looks are a key part of being an entertainer") and is keenly aware that she's constantly scrutinised for signs of decay. Does she still see a sex icon in the bathroom mirror? She laughs. "Sometimes I look and think, 'Oh God! What are they thinking?' Other times I'll go, 'Yeah. That looks good!'" She acknowledges that pouting Debbie is something she has to work at. "I have put on my look today," she explains. "I've put on some nice eye make-up and stuff. I did TV earlier so I wanted to look right. But I can play it down. I can look less gaudy. When I've got no make-up on, people run away."
One of her most poignant new songs is WHat Is Love? "It's so important, but it's different all the time for different people," she suggests. Her own biggest love has been Chris Stein, the guitarist with whom she founded Blondie and co-wrote the band's hits. When, in 1982, Stein succumbed to a debilitating disease called pemphigus, Harry nursed him, putting her fledging solo career on hold. They split in 1986 and he's since regained his health and married someone else. Then in 1997, they reformed Blondie after a 15-year lay-off. She seems happy to discuss the couple's break-up: "It was some sort of insanity. I just reached a breaking point. It was a stressful time. I just... exploded."
She still loves and respects Stein, but regrets being childless. She's not sure how good a mother she'd have been, but thinks she'd make a great granny, taking her grandchildren to parks. "Back then, I didn't think I had the energy to have a career and a family. I admire people who start families at the height of their popularity. I could have made a different choice but I was on an ego trip. I wouldn't have had the patience. I'm a little more patient now."
She was adopted in 1945 and raised in a reserved New Jersey household. Her birth name, she reveals, was Angela Trimble - not the sort of moniker you can imagine in lights. She once tried to trace her mother but wasn't convinced by the findings of the detective she hired. Not knowing her ancestry has, she believes, played a significant role in her search for identity. "It gave me a depth of imagination maybe lacking in people who know their lineage. There's a sense of freedom because there's always a question there." At the height of Blondie-mania, it was said that she believed she was the illegitimate daughter of Marilyn Monroe. Had she ever considered it a possibility? "No. But there was a time in my life when I wanted to have that, because I thought it was glamorous and mysterious."
When off the road, she stays busy working, dining out, watching movies and dancing. She's recently had a small role in the movie Elegy starring Dennis Hopper and Penélope Cruz, and co-wrote a song for the stage musical of Desperately Seeking Susan, which has a Blondie soundtrack. Her more mature version of walking on the wild side, she says, is "to be open to new things. You have to stray outside the comfort zone. You need a feeling of urgency to get your juices flowing." So what's the wildest thing she's done of late? "Probably putting out this solo record. That's pretty adventurous at this stage of the game."
FROM BUNNY TO BLONDIE
Deborah Harry left New Jersey for Manhattan in 1965 and took a series of random jobs - waitress, beautician, secretary, dancer and, most famously, Playboy bunny (left) - while hovering on the fringes of the music scene. In 1968, she recorded with Wind in the Willows, a hippy folk group. Hard drugs, including heroin, blighted her progress, but in the early 70s she joined vocal trio the Stilettos, described as a trashy version of the Ronettes. In the backing band was guitarist Chris Stein. They became lovers and in 1974 formed Blondie.